Wasilla baseball team honors fallen service members
Carter Houston warms up for the season opener. He's the starting pitcher for Wasilla's American Legion Post 35 JV baseball team. Houston wears number 24 on his jersey, but not his own name; that space on the back of the shirt belongs to an American serviceman.
It's the same story for the rest of team. Each name represents a U.S. servicemember killed in combat. First baseman Clancey O'Donnell has Sgt. Maj. Robert O'Dell on his uniform. The Virginia native died in December 2004.
"He died December 21 when his facility came under attack when he was over in Afghanistan," said O'Donnell.
The tribute to the fallen troops is not new; it's taken place for nearly 10 years.
"We want them to understand the sacrifices and what American Legion Baseball is all about," said head coach Ken Ottinger.
Players don't simply wear the uniform and hit the field, they know the story of the service member they represent.
"It's cool that we can honor the veterans that have died in our country. As a player, it gives me someone to look into and just learn more about for people in our community," said pitcher Briar Hahn.
Varsity players wear the names of Alaska troops killed in combat, while JV players bare the names of troops from around the country who gave their lives for the nation. Hahn has Kentucky's Pvt. 1st Class Timothy Vimoto, who died in June 2007.
"Him and his dad were both in Afghanistan together with Operation Enduring Freedom. He died at age 19 in his first gunfight in the Korengal Valley. It's called the Valley of Death by American soldiers," said Hahn.
Post 35 leaders appreciate the tributes.
"Coming back from Vietnam, we didn't get treated as well as we should have. In today's world, things are a little different, and the young people should honor the guys who gave their life so they can be out here playing ball every day," said Post 35 1st Vice President Jim Pisa.
Coaches take part, too. Ottinger carries the name of Sgt. Kurtis Arcala.
"Kurtis Arcala, he was killed in Tikrit by an improvised device, back on September 11, 2005, and he was from Palmer," said Ottinger.
What's in a name? For the Post 35 baseball teams, everything.
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